Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Catching Up On Crime: DIRTY MONEY by Richard Stark (Parker #24)


Dirty Money (Parker, #24)Parker, Sandra, and McWhitney attempt to retrieve their bounty; serialised stolen bank cash that they can’t use but can trade internationally – sure they won’t get the full score but a portion, once is all said and done, is better than nothing even if it is one thousand per ten.

In traditional Stark fashion, the violence is bubbling to bursting point. Any confrontation can lead to bloodshed. Parker’s violent nature is once more on display and there are plenty of opportunities for him to satisfy that need. Dealing with underworld figures and a crew who would as easily backstab you as they would say hello over coffee in the morning, brings with it a natural form of scepticism that breeds confrontation.

Despite the potential for DIRTY MONEY to be memorable and the acclaimed accomplishments of the previous books, notably the earlier ones in the series, the last Parker novel doesn’t end on a high note. DIRTY MONEY did little to end such a dominant rein of the perennial and the most immensely readable thief in crime fiction which is a shame as I had high hopes for this final instalment in the series following the lacklustre ASK THE PARROT.

DIRTY MONEY is the conclusion of a three novel story arc that actually doesn’t provide the reader with a whole lot of closure. Parker, his allies, and enemies are still there ready for more action. Had it not been for the authors untimely passing, I have little doubt that more books would follow DIRTY MONEY – and perhaps better written too.

There are a number of reasons as to why DIRTY MONEY left a sour taste in my mouth – firstly, I have read ASK THE PARROT (hence the previously mentioned comment) and that was a direct continuation of NOBODY RUNS FOREVER (a book I haven’t read), with DIRTY MONEY following the continuity and asking that the reader be familiar with the previous works to fully appreciate the events of this book. DIRTY MONEY doesn’t work as a standalone or even a partial component of continuity as it picks up mid stream and fails to provide closure. Perhaps my thoughts on the situation Parker and co so find themselves would’ve been more positive had I read NOBODY RUNS FOREVER (I will read this at some stage).

For me, DIRTY MONEY was just OK.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Review: YAKUZA MOON by Shoko Tendo


Yakuza Moon: Memoirs of a Gangster's DaughterNot what I was expecting.

Going into YAKUZA MOON I had envisioned a rich and provocative look at the raw and uninhabited side of the inner trappings of the Yakuza. Instead, what I got was a memoir of a young woman who has had to endure torment, trials and tribulations throughout her teenage years  - some of which due to her father’s long-time association and subsequent departure from the Yakuza.

Despite not delivering what I had perceived to be the books focus, I still enjoyed YAKUZA MOON. Author Shoko Tendo bleeds her life story through wordsfrom being under the control of a ruthless and obsessive Yakuza gangster, a gradual addition to speed, to the growing resentment towards authority and the eventual growth which comes from hitting rock bottom.

YAKUZO MOON is very much a nonfiction novel of self-discovery amidst adversity and a lengthy streak of bad decisions. Her father’s association with the Yakuza is very much on the peripheral yet the unlawful activities and heinous crimes committed on behalf of Tendo’s ‘circle’ are on full display – from lovers to fellow gang members.

YAKUZA MOON is well worth a read; just don’t expect to learn much about the Yazuka.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Pick Up A Pulp [5]: 69 BARROW STREET by Lawrence Block


Reminiscent of an OrrieHitt pulp, 69 BARROW STREET embodies all that is the Village in an age of sexual experimentation and provocation. The hipsters and free spirits mingle with the dominants and the dominated in an orgy of self-loving/loathing as the lead characters embark on a journey to self-discovery.

Be it bloody and/or beautiful, author Lawrence Block’s 69 BARROW STREET is much more than a smutty sleaze pulp but one of unexpected sins and sensibility.

For Ralph, a struggling painter and male gigolo (of sorts) living off of Stella (paid accommodation, food, love slave), his life is about to get a whole lot more complicated when he meets the new resident of 69 Barrow Street, the angelic Susan Rivers – the unattainable lesbian and soon-to-be painter’s muse.

The two hit it off and form a fast friendship. However, Stella, fully aware of Susan’s allure, casts her sticky sweet web of seduction luring in Susan with an aim to corrupt and dismantle the budding relationship.

I didn’t expect to enjoy 69 BARROW STREET as much as I did and found myself eagerly anticipating Stella’s every interaction. The ending was one I didn’t see coming and really packed a punch. Don’t be fooled, there’s a lot more to 69 BARROW STREET than what you’d expect.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Catching Up On Crime: THE LAST COYOTE by Michael Connelly


The Last CoyoteHarry Bosch in on involuntary leave from the force; his return pending a psychiatric evaluation. The source of his exile a violent encounter with his superior officer, Lt Pounds, which resulted in Bosch putting his head through a glass wall. Now having to deal with stress, detachment, and rage issues, he finds himself having to convince Carmen Hinojos of his wellbeing and mind state in order to be reinstated to the force.

But that’s only one half of the story. The other, being what Bosch occupies his time with.

Being a cop, he lives the life. The job is everything, each murder matters, each case almost personal regardless of the occupation of the deceased or their lifestyle. In this instance it’s the 1961 murder of a prostitute that holds his interest – the murder of his mother.

THE LAST COYOTE takes Bosch down a dark and deeply confrontational path towards a truth he does anything but shy away from – even as the bodies pile up, his pursuit for closure of his mother’s murder doesn’t waiver.

Author Michael Connelly does a great job at linking this cold case with current day suspects as the impact of Bosch’s investigation is felt across Hollywood (from the newspapers to his fellow officers, to his mothers’ best friend at her time of death).

The theme is standard police procedural yet Bosch’s character development goes beyond the norm as the reader is treated to the inner workings of Bosch – his drive, determination, love life, and sense of self preservation/destruction, all tied up in the pursuit of justice.

I found it hard to put THE LAST COYOTE down as the overarching murder mystery is just addictive. There are also a few twists that really shocked me in one of those rare reader moments; a testament to Connelly’s continued craft.

Next up TRUNK MUSIC.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Review: FAGS AND LAGER by Charlie Williams


Fags and LagerRoyston Blake, head doorman at local dive Hoppers lives a simple life with simple needs, his slight embellishment of the truth throughout the narration of FAGS AND LAGER exemplifies this and provides the reader a jaded if not jagged source of what’s true and proper – the trials and tribulations, if you will, of being a top doorman and all that.

Murder, violence, booze, drugs, and fags dominate the theme of Charlie Williams’ second novel set in the town of Mangel, and much like DEADFOLK before it FAGS AND LAGER is just as colourful and entertaining - if not more-so.

Readers easily offended by cuss words and sewer dialogue need give FAGS AND LAGER a miss as our Royston Blake uses it in spades. The profanity does stand to reason and adds a little bit of uniqueness to the narrative. It added, rather than distracted.

As far as the plot goes it’s very much along the lines of a detective novel, one where payment is booze and lager rather than coin, notoriety, or reward for a just deed. A local shop owner wants Blake to return his 14yr old daughter to him and run-off her older (much older) boyfriend (the suspected bad influence). Blake soon discovers that the quarry is well known for being a tad promiscuous and loose with her morals and doesn’t mind a bit of illegal stimulus, hardly a damsel in distress.

Digging deep into the Mangel underworld and the rotten drug trade spreading its poison to the local youth, Blake uncovers far more than what he’d bargained for. His hurt – our enjoyment.

FAGS AND LAGER is a diverse and uniquely placed noir that tickles the senses and smacks the funny bone.   

*title also known as BOOZE AND BURN

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Pick Up A Pulp [4]: STRANGE EMBRACE by Lawrence Block


A Touch of Squalor producer Johnny Lane stumbles upon the murder of young and promising starlet Elaine, found dead, in the nude with her throat slit. Despite the horrendous nature of this unfortunate event, this being showbiz, the show must go on. 

STRANGE EMBRACE is pure pulp, rather than the sleaze pulp/soft-core erotica I had anticipated (by virtue of the cover painting) and is more derived from the classic yet contained whodunit formulaic laden fiction of the genre.

Written in 1961 (this edition first publicised by Hardcase Crime under the authors actual name) STRANGE EMBRACE ages well. The characters are typecast, the mystery omnipresent,  and a touch of humour (notably between the producer and investigating officer) compliments proceedings as the nature of the murder and whispering threat of violence unravels.

Producer Johnny Lane plays detective as he deduces and evaluates potential suspects from within the troupe of Broadway’s A Touch of Squalor. Whilst it’s easy enough to see where the conclusion is heading, I did enjoy reading Johnny’s mishap and defamation of character time and time again.

Johnny’s natural attraction and relationship with one of his other stars was also enjoyable and added depth to the lead character as more than an investigating producer trying to muscle his way into the world of crime and debauchery. Written more as a means to throw the reader’s perception of Johnny, it didn’t quite work but did enough to cloud my perception of his judgement.

STRANGE EMRACE is a one sitting read that achieves what it sets out to do – provide a bite size portion of popcorn pulp that’s entertaining and easily consumable.    

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Catching Up On Crime: EAST OF A by Russell Atwood (1999)


East of AEAST OF A started with a bang, a near pitch perfect opening which looked to have set the tone for the remainder of the book; equal parts action and humour with a touch of character development thrown in to allow an immediate connection with the down-on-his-luck PI Payton Sherwood.

Coming to the aid of a young women who’s being roughed up by a couple of thugs, Sherwood steps in only to be handed a beating and then have his watch stolen by the very woman he was trying to save.

From there the plot follows Sherwood as he searches for this mystery women in order to retrieve his stolen goods. What he discovers is a deeper seeded mystery involving the theft of a new street drug, murder, and criminal activity that he didn’t sign up for.

EAST OF A follows a tight script and is much improved on the other Payton Sherwood novel I read published by Hardcase Crime, LOSERS LIVE LONGER. I though the pacing was right on par and the course of the investigation organic and not without justification.Yet EAST OF A just didn’t live up to that opening billing and the ending did feel too abrupt. That said I’ll be sure to search for more books featuring PI Payton Sherwood if they’re out there.

Advance Review: MERRICK by Ken Bruen


MerrickMerrick – former PI and partner of author Reed Farrel Coleman’s series PI Moe Prager now runs a bar having retired from the detective gig. However, with Moe out of commission, there’s one case that hangs over Merrick; missing children and the taunting perpetrator – one case he can’t walk away from but can’t solve on his own.

Ken Bruen’s newest lead character creation Tommy Ryan has elements of Bruen’s penultimate Guarda Jack Taylor but with a little more restraint and a greater moral compass. He’s looking to make a fresh start in America having lost his way and all that matters in life in his homeland.

The two cops find each other over a couple of brews and instantly bond – soon enough they’re teaming up to crack down on children killers with their own brand of justice.

MERRICK is loaded with little easter eggs for fans of Ken Bruen’s other books. The Jack Taylor series resemblance is here, as are subtle nods to TOWER (co-authored by Reed Farrel Coleman) and ONCE WERE COPS.

Ryan is the main character and reads very well. Bruen devoted a lot of time and effort in making him multi dimensional with his personal life and relationship with a local Indian woman sharing top billing with the case itself. Interestingly enough, Merrick read as a sidekick which makes this title somewhat misleading.

It’s evident there’s to be more books featuring the two and if MERRICK is anything to go by, the new series has potential.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Best Books 2014: Surreal Picks & What To Look Forward To

Of late, my reading has leaned towards the surreal (fantasy, horror, sci-fi etc.) which is a good thing as 2014 has already produced some great reads. Below are some of my picks from what I've read and a mention at some of the books I'm really excited about yet to be published.

In no particular order:

Picks of 2014 (to be or already published):

The Girl with All the Gifts Hang Wire The Almost Girl

Murder of Crows (The Others, #2) The Burning Dark Depth Charging Ice Planet Goth

Read the reviews:
- THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS
- HANG WIRE
- THE ALMOST GIRL
- MURDER OF CROWS
- THE BURNING DARK
- DEPTH CHARGING ICE PLANET GOTH

Now a look ahead:

The Seal of the Worm (Shadows of the Apt #10) Clariel (Abhorsen, #4) Hellhole Inferno (Hellhole, #3)

Broken Monsters The Broken Eye (Lightbringer, #3) Multiversum (Multiversum, #1)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

First Look: NIGHT TERRORS by Tim Waggoner


Night Terrors (Shadow Watch, #1)NIGHT TERRORS is a ridiculously fun book to read – a concoction of nightmares, detective drama, and the supernatural that stretches the fabric of reality and bleeds surreal through the seams.

Shadow Watch officers/agents Audra (an Ideator, maker of nightmares) and Jinx (an Incubus, Audra’s nightmare made real) are introduced to the reader following the unsuccessful collar of another Incubus causing havoc amongst the general populace.  It is during this episode of violence that a Maelstrom opens up, dredging up monsters and supernatural horrors bringing the Shadow Watch partners out of the shadows and into full light of their superiors and many terrified onlookers. From here a tried and tested detective formula precedes the investigation – yet with a shade of the surreal.

I really like the dynamic of the unpredictable duo in Audra and Jinx, not only does the real life existence of Audra’s worst nightmare work with her day and night (Ideators don’t need sleep, often relying on illegal drugs to maintain alertness) but often saves her from other peoples tormented and ghastly creations. Jinx, being a murderous clown, packs a few big gloved punches (or mallets) to go along with his humour which lightens the mood and breaks-up the procedural nature of their investigation.

NIGHT TERRORS has a lot going for it and I’m pleased that it’s the first in a series focusing of the Shadow Watch as Jinx is one nightmare that I, as a reader, wouldn’t mind reoccurring.

NIGHT TERRORS is due out in May 2014 from Angry Robot. Read more here.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Review: KING OF THORNS by Mark Lawrence


King of Thorns (The Broken Empire, #2)Four years have passed since the Prince of Thorns, Jorg Ancrath forged his place atop a fractured and broken throne won with the blood of his brothers and those who dared to stand in his way. Now, the Price of Arrows threatens all that the newly proclaimed King Jorg has taken. Marching twenty thousand strong to his doorstep, the Price of Arrowshas Jorg’s number but not his thirst and talent for bloodshed. KING OF THORNS pits Jorg against a worthy foe, albeit a mere mortal who just might cut the killing king down to size. Might.

KING OF THORNS is really a novel of two tales. For the better part, the present day battle and attempted take-over of Jorg’s kingdom is secondary to the throw-back chapters of four years prior. Despite the aptly titled, King of Thorns, more than half is a direct sequel to PRINCE OF THORNS with a dedicated and elaborate focus on Jorg forging alliances with other amenable states in the preparation of war some three months after taking the throne. This does well to link the allegiances we see in the present day confrontation and gives context to the relationships between the newer characters introduced across the Broken Empire.

As for the ‘wedding day’ story arc set in the present, as the chapter title suggest, this is a single event of monolithic proportions which, not only provides Jorg with a wife and Queen to his kingdom, but a clever and strong minded companion who aides the war effort in more ways than one. Author Mark Lawrence does a great job at providing some redeemable qualities to his very tainted and horribly violent lead character – the introduction of the bride-to-be helps with that.

Initially I was taken aback by the continued references to the back-story, after all there is a whole book dedicated to the Prince prior to becoming King yet as the novel progresses these chapters became more and more relevant and enhanced the present day storyline.

While the fantastical elements are obvious, the medieval, strategic warfare, and futuristic components add a nice touch to KING OF THORNS, making this one of the more enjoyable and distinct concepts in the genre.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Catching up on crime: ATOMIC CITY by Sally Breen


Atomic CityThis is an interesting book on so many levels. Despite enjoying it there was something that felt a little off. Set on the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia it was nice to see an Aussie author tackle noir and do it well. I thought the writing was at times poetic and vivid, with the seedy depiction of the sunshine state a real highlight.

One thing that bugged was that the characters just didn’t feel real, more a cardboard cut-out than three dimensional. That said the author did go to some length to make Jade, one half of the books’ focus, a tormented and deeply scarred individual with a penchant for the grifters game, same with the titular male lead ‘The Dealer’ – the foundation for a decent character yet something was just a little off centre.

The plot revolves around Jade and her attempts at luring members of the opposite sex into her world of scams and cons. For the most part she’s successful but quickly shows her devil may care attitude when switching sides to hook up with a prominent underworld figure, leaving The Dealer alone with his thoughts of past capers and romanticisms.

From that point forward, the reader learns not to trust her narrative nor The Dealers as jealously boils over and versions of the truth become skewed.

I give this 4 stars on Goodreads but not with confidence. The premise and poetry enough to satisfy me despite the lack of character depth.   

First Look: TROLL MOUNTAIN (episode 3) by Matthew Reilly


Troll Mountain: Episode IIIWarning spoilers of episodes 1 and 2 ahead! 



I also plan on writing a blog post about my final thoughts of TROLL MOUNTAIN as a complete story, but first here’s what  thought of the third and final instalment in Matthew Reilly’s YA Fantasy adventure:

The final chapters of TROLL MOUNTAIN see Raf, our young and brave protagonist face off against the Troll King’s champion in battle he surely has no chance of winning.

Picking up where Episode 2 left off, the reader is thrown into the action – something author Matthew Reilly is renowned for. The confrontation between the Troll champion and Raf is smartly written with Raf using his smarts rather than brute force (of which, someone of his stature would not have much of) as he fights for his life and the lives of the people in his village (those in dire need of fresh water and the elixir). His companions are put to the peripheral, as the book shifts perspective to Raf’s plight following the early episode’s character building.

This is perhaps the most up-front instalment that conforms to the YA stereotype, not in a bad way. As Raf deals with his violent confrontation he also must learn humility to go along with his bravery. Characters from the earlier chapters of Episode 1 reappear, forcing Raf’s hand at learning important life lessons.

Episode 3 did feel a like the weaker of the instalments, but I think that’s primarily attributed to the journey having been walked and the characters being developed, leaving only the closure to the story to tell – which in itself is good and reads as lengthy action sequence.  

Overall, TROLL MOUNTAIN is a sold YA fantasy read that has engaging characters pitted against formidable foes set amongst an interesting place-setting.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Review: HELLHOLE Awakening by Brian Herbert & Kevin J Anderson


Hellhole Awakening (Hellhole Trilogy 2)IT DOESN’T END!

I think the Hellhole series is off to a great start. The worlds are interesting, the universe deep, and the characters well formulated and plotted. What let the initial two books down, however, is each doesn’t read as a self contained story. I get the need for continuity, but having read in excess of 500pgs per instalment, as a reader, I want some return on investment.

Sounds harsher than I’m meaning it to be; I gladly give AWKAKENING and its predecessor 4 stars out of 5 on Goodreads, the books themselves are a great form of escapism in a well defined sci-fi setting that warrants many more stories set in this vast fictional landscape. I just think the author’s could’ve written the books with more emphasis on closure rather than cliffhanger.

You can read my review of HELLHOLE #1 here.

SPOLIER ALERT for HELLHOLE #1

HELLHOLE ended with a declaration of war with AWAKENING set up for a large scale confrontation between the Crown Jewel planets and the deep zone planets. Diadem Michella, Escobar Hallholme, and Ishop amongst others against General Adolphus and his alien Xayan race is epic within itself yet the added mystery of an anonymous space craft scanning Hellhole and the planets’ slow awakening added even more drama and chaos. There’s a lot to take in, and to the authors credit, they make it easily readable. This is one sci-fi series reader can enjoy rather than have to work to read.

Much like HELLHOLE, AWAKENING doesn’t give full closure to the story arc. Whilst I walked away satisfied, I would’ve liked less of a tease for the next instalment and more of a clear ‘end point’ to this book. Perhaps it’s more a criticism of my own impatience rather than the authors themselves – they have me craving what happens next. Mission accomplished in that respect.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Review: INK MAGE by Victor Gischler


Ink MageINK MAGE opens in dramatic fashion, thrusting the reader head on into a world of warfare and violence. Blood is spilt, heroes are felled, and the homeland of Rina, soon to be Dutches by virtue of her father’s murder, is overrun by the invading Parranese.

Author Victor Gischler’s deep dive into the surreal results in a fast paced fantasy that envelops the reader in a fantastical shroud of magic, monsters and mystical lore from start to finish. Rina’s initial battle alongside the devastating violent and protective Kork in the early stages of the book sets the tone for strong character development and provides a pathway cut through the meaty flesh of invaders towards her first tattoo, spawning the adventure and creating the legend.  

Double crosses and questionable allegiances ensue as Rina seeks help from all manner of unlikely sources to rid her homeland of its conquering guests (including gypsies). Aided by a likeable cast including Alem and Tosh, Victor Gischler ensures INK MAGE remains fresh by virtue of varying perspectives and allowing for respective telling of events through differing eyes. This allows for the blend of magic/warfare/and traditional fantasy quest elements to merge seamlessly into the broader tale.

I had the luxury of reading INK MAGE as a single volume and I’m glad that was the case as the pace of story made for a quick read – in serial format, I would’ve been too impatient waiting for each instalment.

I’m keen to see where Victor Gischler takes this series next.